One swing of Rick Ankiel’s bat made John Lannan and the Nationals winners for the first time in 2011 on Saturday as Washington beat the Braves 6-3 in a soggy affair at Nationals Park.
Ankiel took a 91 mile-per-hour four-seam fastball from Braves starter Tommy Hanson to right field above the out-of-town scoreboard in the third inning to give the Nats a 4-1 lead, all they would need to sink Atlanta on another chilly day at the ballpark.
Ankiel also layed down a perfect squeeze bunt in bottom of the seventh inning with the bases loaded to score third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and make the score 5-2 Nats. Catcher Wilson Ramos (three singles) and right fielder Jayson Werth (two doubles and an infield single) both had three hits to pace the Nats 10-hit performance.
Lannan was good, if unspectacular. That is pretty much what can be expected from the 26-year-old sinker-ball pitcher at this point in his career. His four-seam fastball hovered between 89 and 91 miles per hour, with his two-seamer between 86 and 89. He worked to his strengths and kept the ball on the ground for the most part, recording seven groundouts verse four fly balls and three strikeouts.
“Lannan certainly lobbied to stay in,” Riggleman said of the starter after the second rain delay (55 minutes) in the fourth inning. “We wanted him to continue on. We are not going to get overboard about who gets the win but we would have liked for him to get through it and get three more outs and pick that up. The overriding factor was how loose he could get and how he felt and he felt fine. We thought there was a little difference in his stuff that inning as opposed to earlier, so, we didn’t let him go any more.”
After Lannan, the Nationals used five relievers to nail down the victory. In order – Chad Gaudin, Doug Slaten, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, Sean Burnett. They combined for four innings, five hits, two earned runs (both home runs) and two strikeouts.
Baseball is a game of increments. To a certain extent it can be looked up as a law of singularly-intermingled events. Any hitter with a 2-0 count looks like an All-Star on the next pitch. Hitters in 0-2 counts do not sniff the Mendoza line.
The purpose of baseball is to succeed through 27 outs with the highest possible total of runs. That means that every play has a positive and negative effect on the probability of a certain outcome as the game meanders to conclusion. This is where a stat called Win Probability Added (WPA) comes into play.
There are two halves to win probability. The wining half and the losing half. Each team will have a cumulative WPA of -.500 or .500 for the losing and winning half. By breaking down who contributed most to WPA, the real heroes of a game emerge.
In order of importance on Saturday, the heroes for the Nats were: Clippard (.255), Ankiel (.180) and Lannan (.120).
“Clip has done that twice now,” managet Jim Riggleman said. “He has come in with runners on base and left those men out there and he is facing some tough hitters. They got a good lineup, we know that. They got a good pitching staff. It is a great ball club they put out over there and we are feeling really good the way we have played with them here.”
One of the strengths of the Nats will be in the bullpen and Riggleman showed that on Saturday, effectively deploying his three main tools – Clippard, Storen and Burnett – in situations that optimized their effect. Clippard pitched 1.2 innings and got the Nats out of the biggest jams of the game, hence, in terms of WPA, he was the star. Ankiel provided the odd combination of muscle and finesse with his three RBI. Now Washington looks to take the rubber game on Sunday in another matinee.
“We played a good ball game,” Riggleman said. “We swung the bat good. I was really encouraged by the way we played defense, a lot of good things happened defensively. [Danny] Espinosa, [Ian] Desmond made some great plays … we ran the bases, got signs. Good fundamental stuff. We played good baseball today.”